CITY GUIDE: MARRAKECHApril 5, 2016
Having made it to the other side of winter, we’re all dreaming about getting our first licks of sunshine this year. Pack your bags for a weekend break to warmer climes and visit Marrakech, a city steeped in history, rich colours, mouth-watering cuisine and beautiful architecture. From hunting down trinkets and treasures in the hectic souks to getting lost in the flower-covered walkways at the Majorelle Garden, Marrakech offers a little something for everyone. If you’re planning your city break this spring, do yourself a favour and add these recommendations to your To-Do list.
Stay at a riad
Book yourself into one of the thousands of riads in the medina for a slice of calm, away from the chaos of activity outside. As soon as you step through the door to your riad, the sounds of scooters and salesman are replaced with the running water from fountains: a complete oasis. The rooftops are ideal for soaking up some sunshine, or alternatively to catch the sunset with a pot of fresh Moroccan mint tea. It’s also the perfect spot to watch the imams of the mosques call the fifth and final prayer of the day.
Get lost in the Majorelle Garden
Quite possibly one of the most beautiful sights in Marrakech, the Majorelle Garden is washed in bold blue and canary yellow. Even though the garden is frequently referred to as the Saint Laurent garden, it was actually designed by the French artist, Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s. Littered with native African cacti, exotic plants and trees, stroll through the walkways and admire the pools, streams and fountains. An idyllic retreat that is both near, yet feels so far from the bustling city.
Learn to haggle at the souk
The heartbeat of Marrakech is the souks of the medina in the old city; they have long been a significant trade centre and to this day they are a major shopping destination. Here you can buy anything from hand-woven rugs and pure argan oil to slippers and jewellery – and all for an amazing price.
Make sure to bargain with the seller. Even though the asking price seems cheap for anyone living in Western Europe, haggling is expected here and the initial price will reflect that. A good rule of thumb is to offer 1/3 of their asking price. Be confident, don’t show too much interest and you’ll be getting a much better deal for yourself.
Don’t forget to stop into one of the many rug traders and soak up inspiration from the amazing artistry that goes into hand-making these gorgeous carpets. You almost certainly won’t leave empty handed.
Take a cooking class
A great way to learn about a new culture is through food. Talk with the people at your riad to see if there are any classes offered there. With agriculture being one of Morocco’s biggest industries, there are an immense amount of fresh fruits and vegetables available to use when cooking. Get to know the spices and don’t be afraid to eat couscous with your hands like the locals do.
Take a trip to the Atlas Mountains
After an hour-long drive of breathtaking scenery and winding roads, you can find yourself in the High Atlas Mountains. With a backdrop of clear blue skies, snowcapped mountains and lush green trees, it’s a slice of quiet away from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech. Enjoy long scenic hikes, explore the Berber villages, have an authentic hammam, or simply lay out by the pool and absorb the sun. Don’t be afraid of talking to the locals – they are nothing but friendly! And of course, don’t forget to sample some local food.
Top tips for visiting Marrakech
While Marrakech is an incredible city to visit, it is also very busy, it’s easy to get lost and it’s easy to feel harassed. Although it’s a tourist-friendly destination, there are a couple of things to be aware of. Here are our essential tips for having the best experience.
1. If someone is trying to help you by giving you directions, keep walking and say no thank you, unless you’re willing to cough up a few Dirhams for their guidance. The best way to be left alone is to simply say you don’t have money – this quickly kills their interest in you.
2. Always bargain. Haggling is a cultural norm in Marrakech and it is expected that the customer will bargain down the price. Don’t feel embarrassed, just give it a go.
3. Don’t wear baggy pockets, and keep an eye on your possessions when walking around the souks.
4. If it’s after midnight, take a cab. Or if you are walking around the medina where cars cannot get to, check with your riad to see if someone can chaperone you.
5. Always dress and act respectfully; remember that you are a visitor in a country and to a culture.